Virginia, US
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| Nikhil Bande

Nitty-Gritties of Document Legalization

As a part of the immigration journey, people often come across the requirement to legalize or apostille their documents such as degrees, marriage and birth certificates, or to procure police clearance certificates, in order to obtain work or residence permits in a foreign land.

As a part of the immigration journey, people often come across the requirement to legalize or apostille their documents such as degrees, marriage and birth certificates, or to procure police clearance certificates, in order to obtain work or residence permits in a foreign land.

The requirements can be overwhelming and the time crunch can set one up for a panic situation. In this blog, I will discuss some of these procedures, which will help you to overcome the initial challenges when planning your next move.

Legalization vs. Apostille: It has been nearly 50 years since the advent of the Hague Convention of 5th October 1961 (Apostille Convention), which sought to abolish the requirement of legalization of foreign public documents. The list of contracting parties to the Hague Convention, currently totalling 115 countries, can be found here. This list is updated periodically as new members join.  The process of certifying or “legalizing” a document so that it can be recognized as genuine in a foreign country is typically a complicated, multi-step process requiring a series of attestations in various government offices followed by a legalization stamp by the relevant consular post. The Hague Convention is meant to simplify this process by creating a streamlined, internationally-recognized certification process known as an apostille. Both the sending and destination countries need to be the part of Hague Convention for the applicant’s documents to undergo the quicker apostille process.

Originals vs. Copies: Most people are understandably protective of their personal, academic and other vital documents and do not wish them to be marked or stamped for any reason. Unfortunately, in some countries, the government authorities will only legalize or apostille original documents, not copies. For this reason, it is not advisable to laminate or frame your documents since they may need legalization, and delamination or de-framing can damage them. Certain countries may allow true copies of academic certificates to be legalized, but not vital records such as birth certificates or marriage certificates.

Language Acceptability: In this diverse world with numerous languages, the language of your documents may not be acceptable in the destination location. It is always best to work backwards and check if translations are acceptable. If so, can translations alone be legalized, or must both the original and translated copies be legalized? If the document is written in multiple languages and one of them is acceptable in your destination country, that is usually sufficient.

Power of Attorney Requirements: In many cases, attorneys or other professionals cannot represent clients seeking legalization of documents without a Power of Attorney executed by the client. Often, a Power of Attorney needs to be notarized if the applicant lives in the same country, or legalized by the relevant Embassy if the applicant lives in a different country.

Age of Documents and Old Stamps: In certain parts of the world, only newly-issued vital documents and academic certificates can be legalized. Many countries will only accept documents issued within last three or six months for immigration purposes. Even if the applicant has the original documents, they may be void for legalization purposes, and this may also be true for the old stamps on these documents, resulting in the need to procure fresh documents.

Underlying Documents: Document legalization can be a very long and frustrating process, especially if you are unaware of any prerequisite legalization requirements. (For example, a person presenting a post-graduate diploma may be asked to provide legalized copies of previous educational certificates as well.)  At any stage, the document may need translation or a power of attorney or a true copy. It is advised to work backwards and check with all authorities on their specific requirements before starting the process. This also applies to “equalization,” which is a process to certify the equivalency of an individual’s foreign educational credentials.

Police Clearance Certificates: In many countries, visa applicants are required to secure police clearance certificates for security reasons. Typically, applicants over a certain age must produce police certificates from all countries in which they lived after a certain age. These certificates may also need to be legalized or apostilled. One of the common challenges is that certain locations do not allow third-party representation and the applicant has to travel to that location to procure the police certificate for him- or herself, which can be a very expensive, and time- and energy-consuming, process.

Restricted Nationals: Sometimes, an applicant may be subject to a travel ban or other restrictions by the destination country based on the specifics of bilateral relations. Therefore, applicants must take cognizance of any additional documents that may need to be procured or legalized and submitted in advance.

Jurisdictional Coverage: Some countries which impose legalization requirements on prospective immigrants may not have a consular presence in the sending country. In such situations, the jurisdiction usually moves to the nearest neighbouring country with the relevant consular presence. Jurisdictional coverage can be tricky in case of war or political instability and may leave applicants in distress. Jurisdiction coverage is all about connecting the missing dots, and at times it requires additional steps in other locations to obtain the hard-fought final legalization stamp for the destination country.

For further advice on best document practices, please contact me at NBande@fragomen.com